The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in January 1974 on an early-morning walk in Hawaii.
Disciple: Materialists think that everything in nature is meant for man, for his exploitation and enjoyment.
Srila Prabhupada: But when there is an arrangement there must be some higher supervision. You call it nature, and we accept that. In Bhagavad-gita [3.27] Krishna says, prakriteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvashah: “Everything is being done by the direction of prakriti, nature.” So nature is superior to you. You have to accept this, because you are being directed by nature.
Disciple: The materialists hope to become superior to nature.
Srila Prabhupada: That is rascaldom, foolishness. Krishna says,
The rascal’s actions are all being dictated by nature, but he is thinking, “I am the lord.” By self-conceit, he’s falsely thinking, “I am controlling nature” or “I shall be able to control nature in the future.” This is foolishness. This is rascaldom.
Disciple: The scientists can give so much evidence that they have already achieved partial control over nature. Now we can fly all over the world?
Srila Prabhupada: Partial control means no control. We are controlled by nature; that you cannot deny. Now, the next question should be. How is nature working? That Krishna also explains in Bhagavad-gita [9.10]: mayadhyakshena prakritih suyate sa-caracaram. “The material nature is working under My supervision.” To a small degree, we are also supervising material nature. For example, here is some earth. We can take this earth and make it into bricks and build a skyscraper. It is not that the earth is going to become a skyscraper by itself. A living entity must utilize the earth to build the skyscraper. Another example is an airplane. It is simply a combination of various kinds of matter, but it has to be worked out by the manufacturer and flown by the pilot. Therefore the pilot of the airplane, or the manufacturer, is superior to the airplane itself.
Now, the elements of material nature (earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and ego) are working together so nicely, just like a big machine, that anyone can see they are being manipulated by some living entity. And that entity is God, or Krishna. So our position is that we are controlled by the material nature, and the material nature is controlled by Krishna. One who is at all sensible will think, “After all, the Supreme Controller is Krishna, so why not directly come under His control? Why not serve Him directly?” This is good sense.
Disciple: The difference between Krishna’s control and that of the material nature seems to be that Krishna is benevolent but the material nature is not.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Material nature is just like a jail superintendent. If you don’t care for the laws of the government, the laws of God, then you’ll be controlled by the jail superintendent. That’s all. You will be controlled; you cannot be free. This is your constitutional position.
Disciple: We have the choice of being controlled either by love or by force.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. When we decide to be controlled by Krishna, it is out of love for Him. Similarly, you are being controlled by me, but there is no force. You serve me voluntarily, out of love. I am not paying you; still, when I ask you to do something you immediately do it. Why? There is love between us.
Disciple: If a person actually understands the distinction between control by Krishna and control by the material nature, is it possible that he will still choose to be controlled by the material nature?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. He has already made that choice. But he’s so foolish that he thinks, “I am now independent of the Supreme Lord.” Because he’s foolish he cannot understand that he is simply being controlled by an agent of God, the material nature. Although he is controlled at every moment, he is thinking, “I am free.” Therefore he is in illusion. Illusion means believing something that is not a fact. So the materialists and so-called scientists who are thinking, “There is no God; we are independent” are simply foolish, childish rascals. That is why Krishna uses the word vimudhatma to describe them. Vimudhatma means “befooled rascal.”
Disciple: Most people don’t think life in the material nature is so bad. They think it’s pleasurable. They think they’re having fun.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is another illusion. Unless one thinks material life is pleasurable, how could he tolerate it? When we see a pig eating stool, we say, “Ughhh!” But unless the pig thinks, “This is pleasurable,” how could he eat stool? He is eating the most abominable thing, but he is thinking, “I am enjoying.” This is maya, illusion.
Disciple: Sometimes when we tell people this life is full of miseries, they say, “What do you mean?”
Srila Prabhupada: That is their foolishness. They cannot distinguish misery from happiness. They are being kicked by material nature, the agent of Krishna. Because they are desiring in various ways to become controllers or enjoyers, they are being offered various types of bodies and suffering repeated birth and death. But because people have no sense, they think this material life is pleasurable. Now, as Americans, you may have so many nice facilities, but you cannot enjoy them. By nature’s force you have to change your position. What can you do? Today you may be living in a nice apartment on the twenty-fourth floor of a skyscraper, and tomorrow you may become a rat in that apartment. It is not in your power to change the laws of nature.
Actually, everyone is being controlled by the material nature at every moment. So an intelligent person asks how to get out of this material nature, how to end the suffering of repeated birth, old age, disease, and death. And Krishna explains how to end this suffering in Bhagavad-gita [7.14]: mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te: “As soon as the rascal surrenders to Me, he is out of the control of My material nature.” Surrendering to Krishna is real intelligence.